Is Exhaustion the New Pandemic?

Learn how to fight fatigue and enhance energy with science-based strategies.

Posted Jun 12, 2020

Waking up emotionally drained? Craving midday naps, sugar, and carbs? Finding your fuse to be shorter than ever? You're not alone.

According to a recent survey by Eagle Hill Consulting (2020), since COVID, 45% of U.S. workers report feeling burned out. Additionally, since the outbreak, 54% of workers have reported greater emotional exhaustion as well as increased feelings of anxiety (57%) and stress (67%).

But let's be honest. Even prior to quarantine, most of us were already burning the candle at both ends. Now, with increasing pressures and screen time due to our virtual, work-from-home reality, any pre-pandemic sense of work/life balance has since vanished—and burnout and exhaustion have become the new pandemic.

Though you can't add more hours to your day, you can add more life—more energy—to your hours. These four science-based strategies will help you fight fatigue and enhance your sense of vitality—to maximize focus and productivity for work and more importantly, to be more meaningfully engaged with the people and things that matter most to you at home.

1. Cultivate a sense of calm: Lately, many of us have been feeling stressed, running on high-intensity emotions such as anxiety, anger, and fear. Prolonged, unmanaged stress, and high-intensity emotions can lead to exhaustion and burnout. To create more emotional balance and better manage stress, intentionally engage in practices that will enable you to access a sense of calm. A few practices that can help you do just that are mindfulness, yoga, guided imagery, deep breathing, and physical activity, such as aerobic exercise or a 20-minute walk. Remember, calm is key to creating and sustaining mental and emotional energy.

2. Fuel your brain with quality carbohydrates: The brain uses 20% of your total energy, and derives fuel from glucose—mainly through the consumption of carbohydrates. But not all brain fuel is created equal. While a mix of healthy fats, proteins, and carbs is best for each meal, be vigilant about the type of carbs you're consuming throughout the day. Foods that gradually release carbohydrates into the bloodstream provide a slow but steady supply of energy. A few quality slow-release carbs include: low-glycemic fruits, non-starchy vegetables, beans, and whole grains. On the flip side, try to avoid foods that quickly spike your blood sugar and then send your energy levels crashing—such as: white bread, white rice, breakfast cereals, sugary drinks, processed snack foods, and baked goods. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.

3. Rest and recover using micro-breaks: Research shows that people who take micro-breaks are more productive and feel more energized. After about 90-120 minutes of focused engagement in work tasks, the body begins to crave a period of rest and recovery. This is signaled through yawning, sensations of hunger, and a lack of concentration. When you notice these signs, take a micro-break by mentally and emotionally detaching from work for 2 to 20 minutes. Micro-breaks are even more restorative when disengaging from screens. You might want to try yoga or other calming practices listed above, an outdoor walk with your pet, listening to music, engaging in a crossword, completing a quick, household chore, or talking on the phone with a dear friend. Any activity that you enjoy and enables you to completely detach from work can help restore your energy.

4. Screen (and manage) your screen time: Pre-pandemic, the average U.S. adult spent between eight to 10 hours/day looking at screens. Since quarantine, many of us are spending even more time on screens for work and pleasure. Excess screen time can lead to computer vision syndrome with experiences of strained, dry eyes, blurred vision, headaches, and fatigue. When possible, try to limit your time on screens by choosing non-screen activities to engage in after work. For online meetings, turn your video off and just listen. Hold more meetings via conference calls. If you have to be on a screen, every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look away. Importantly, try to stay off screens an hour or so before bedtime as screens can trigger alertness and diminish the quality of your sleep.

While these four strategies won't cure COVID or remove all your stressors, intentionally applying them to your life will help you fight fatigue and enhance your energy. Most importantly, remember, you're not alone. Everyone's battling something right now—and the battle is leaving us drained. But with a bit of self-care— through better stress management, healthy eating, taking more breaks and being mindful about the amount of time we spend on screens, we each can add more life to our days—one hour at a time.

References

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Chong, S., Kim, Y. J., Lee, H. W., Johnson, R. E., & Lin, S.-H. (J.). (2019). Mind your own break! The interactive effect of workday respite activities and mindfulness on employee outcomes via affective linkages. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Gowrisankaran, S., & Sheedy, J. E. (2015). Computer vision syndrome: A review. Work: Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, 52(2), 303–314. 

Green, A., Cohen-Zion, M., Haim, A., & Dagan, Y. (2017). Evening light exposure to computer screens disrupts human sleep, biological rhythms, and attention abilities. Chronobiology International, 34(7), 855–865.

Kim, S., Park, Y., & Headrick, L. (2018). Daily micro-breaks and job performance: General work engagement as a cross-level moderator. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(7), 772–786.

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